Does the church teach that we are saved by grace or that we are saved by works? This is one of the most oft-repeated criticisms of the Mormon church by other churches, that we don’t correctly understand the atonement of Jesus.
In a recent talk, the speaker had attended an interesting interview with an evangelical who had converted from Mormonism because of what he felt was a misunderstanding on our part of the atonement, that Jesus’ atonment was in fact personal and not just for mankind. This idea that there might be other youth who misunderstand the theology prompted the speaker to open a discussion with the youth. He shared the following quiz questions with the youth in the stake. I thought I would post the 4 true/false questions here for our readers:
- The church does NOT teach that we are saved by grace.
- The church teaches that we are saved by works.
- The final judgment will be like legal scales; if your good works outweigh your bad works, you will be rewarded.
- We will get the reward we’ve earned.
Most of the youth surveyed correctly answered #1 and #2; however, #3 and #4 were a mixed bag, with a split down the middle in understanding the atonement as revealed by those questions. Why is this? Here are some theories:
- The “church” is just a group of people who don’t always understand the gospel.
- The doctrine of salvation (three degrees of glory) adds in a meritocracy component missing in a pass/fail (e.g. Heaven/Hell)construct.
- Other Christian sects essentially wage war on “works” (as if works undermine grace) to illustrate that Mormons aren’t Christians. Mormons are on the defensive on this point theologically, which results in over-emphasis of works in our teaching.
- Mormonism as a community is highly focused on outward behaviors (works) which are measurable rather than the internal behaviors such as belief and acceptance of grace (in other sects, witnessing).
- Even though both are emphasized, works are easier to grasp because they are “controllable.” Kids especially want to know what they have to do (the rules) to meet minimum requirements because kids need structure.
The speaker also distinguished between mercy (not getting something bad that you deserve) and grace (getting something good that you haven’t earned).
So, are we failing to clearly teach the concept of atonement to our youth or do they understand it? Does the community speak louder than the theology? Discuss.